Connecting terrorism with Islam, as Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie did, is not intellectually respectable - no matter what Ipso says
In the immediate aftermath of the Nice terrorist attack the Sun’s Kelvin MacKenzie wrote that Channel 4 journalist Fatima Manji that she should not be allowed to report on the attacks because she was wearing a hijab. The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) decision not to uphold her complaint about Kelvin MacKenzie is racist and callous. Manji has said Ipso's clearing of MacKenzie signified an “open season" on minorities.
MacKenzie is the former editor of The Sun and has often been accused of Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia. In his original column for the Sun MacKenzie asked: "Was it appropriate for Manji to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim?" He argued the hijab was a "religious statement" and questioned whether a Christian would be able to wear a cross prominently on television. But this is not about religion in the abstract. MacKenzie was trying to make a direct link between Islam and terrorism.
This is a message that the Sun returns to again and again. In November last year The Sun had been ordered by the Ipso to admit that a story claiming one in five British Muslims had sympathy for Isis was "significantly misleading". Ipso received an unprecedented 3,000 complaints over the article.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme on this morning, Manji said: "I think the fact that Kelvin MacKenzie can write a column and suggest that I am somehow sympathetic to a perpetrator of a terrorist attack, that somehow I am not like the rest of us, that I am the Other, means that other people are now open to attack." It was upsetting enough to find my picture in what is Britain's most widely read newspaper next to the words 'Muslim terror attack,'" she told Mishal Husain.
Manji told the BBC: "This debate about religious symbols to me is a manufactured debate by the Sun and Kelvin MacKenzie. He is not a public philosopher of our time, he's not interested in religious symbols.” She is right. Islamophobia is really a form of racism, not a philosophical position.
Freedom to discriminate?
The BBC reported today that in its ruling, published on Wednesday, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) said he was "entitled to express" his view. However it should be recognised that MacKenzie’s comments advocated taking someone off air because of what they wear. This authoritarian and discriminatory approach contrasts with Manji’s wearing of a headscarf which in no way impinges on the freedom of others.
The real question is not whether he is legally allowed to say something as a private citizen but whether a major newspaper should be able to advocate muzzling people on the grounds of what they wear or their religion. Channel 4 News has said it is dismayed by the Ipso ruling.
Ben de Pear, Channel 4 News Editor, said: “Whilst we agree that freedom of speech is a fundamental right, we do not believe it should be used as a license to incite or discriminate. His inflammatory comments on Fatima Manji’s professional status, which were widely condemned, and his attempts to equate the wearing of the hijab with support for terrorism, have no place in a properly informed and tolerant society.”
A record of hate
The Sun actively contributes to anti Muslim sentiment. Along with other Murdoch titles it has been a fervent supporter of the disastrous wars the west has been pursuing against Muslim countries. It attacks Muslims at home too. Recent headlines include ‘Muslim tell us how to run our schools’, ‘Christmas is banned: it offends Muslims’.
Words lead to deeds. Fatima’s family and employers were worried for her safety after the BBC radio debates. One caller suggested she should be lynched. ‘Freedom of speech is my bread and butter, I am happy for people to ridicule or offend me, but I am not happy for people to incite hatred against me and this is what has happened’, said Fatima. And we shouldn’t accept this either. The endless attacks on Muslims in the media lead have helped to generate an increase in attacks, particularly on Muslim women post Brexit.
The demonisation and criminalisation of Muslims in the media must stop now. And people need to understand that connecting terrorism with Islam is not an understandable mistake or an intellectually respectable proposition, it is racist abuse.
Maz Saleem is the daughter of 82-year-old Mohammed Saleem, who was murdered in Birmingham just yards from his house by Ukrainian far-right terrorist Pavlo Lapshyn. Maz is an active campaigner against racism and Islamophobia in Britain.